COLLEYVILLE, Texas (BP)–Imagine a huge, white tent covering four acres of land. Inside the tent, imagine thousands of families eating dinner, loading up with boxes of groceries, receiving coupons for Christmas children’s toys and being told how to accept Jesus Christ as Savior — at no cost to them.
What happened Dec. 3 at First Baptist Church in Colleyville, Texas, during their fourth annual Mission Colleyville was not a figment of the imagination.
Senior pastor Frank Harber led hundreds of his church members and hundreds more volunteers from neighboring churches and nearby towns “to minister to thousands from their own community” with food, toys and the Bread of Life.
“Some statistics say that Colleyville has one of the most educated, affluent populations per capita in Texas,” Harber said. “But within five miles of this church are huge pockets of poverty…. Mission Colleyville is our way of letting those people hear about the love of God in a tangible way without asking for anything in return.”
Associate pastor Eric Vaughn said more than 700 volunteers directed vehicles into parking lots, held up signs printed in Spanish and English telling participants where to go, dished up heaping plates of Tex-Mex food and distributed boxes of groceries with efficiency. Despite a cold front moving in from the north, participants streamed into the parking lots of FBC Colleyville in cars, vans, school buses and even on foot.
“We have prepared to seat 4,500 people under the tent tonight, not counting volunteers,” Vaughn said. “A majority of the people we are serving are Spanish-speaking…. They will take home groceries tonight, and then we will give them vouchers for Christmas toys we will give out next week.”
In years past, FBC Colleyville has underwritten the entire cost for Mission Colleyville. This year, a new wrinkle was added through a partnership with Oklahoma-based Feed the Children.
The ministry’s founder, Larry Jones, was on hand and stayed throughout the evening to witness the outreach.
“We were able to bring in four, 53-foot trucks full of milk, toys and even Frito-Lay chips,” Jones said. “Here is a church that could be inwardly focused. But they aren’t. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, ‘The church exists by mission the way fire exists by burning.’ Jesus taught that the poor we will always have, but this church has gone out and looked for them to give them dinner, the Word of the Gospel, and something to take home.”
“Through our partnership with Feed the Children, we can get high-quality food and toys at a greatly reduced price,” Harber added. “It would be very, very difficult for us to get the quality and amounts we have here tonight to give away, at the price we paid, without the involvement of Feed the Children…. Also, there are very few other ministries with the high level of transparency and financial accountability of Feed the Children.”
Harber said that one of the most exciting things that has happened as the result of past Missions Colleyville events is the birthing of four new churches because from the salvations that occurred during the outreach.
Hispanic pastors and members of those congregations were fully engaged in this year’s event. In his third year of involvement, Carlos Flores is the Hispanic coordinator for Mission Colleyville, helping recruit Hispanic pastors and churches to participate in the outreach. He was there with Rogelio Lina; both men are leaders at Highland Meadows Christian Church in Colleyville.
“At least 70 members from our church are here tonight,” Flores said. “We are here to win lost souls for Christ…. We are proud of this church and Pastor Harber for trying to reach out to Hispanic people. They are loving people.”
In addition to Flores and Lina, other Hispanic leaders included pastor Jose Ramirez and members from Jesucristo es la Respuesta, or Jesus Christ is the Answer, his recently planted church in Grapevine, Texas; Julio Hernandez led a group from a church in Keller; and Arturo Herrera led a contingent from a church in Carrolton.
“There are 50 members in our church, and they are all here helping tonight,” Ramirez said. “A month ago, we spent three Saturdays knocking on doors, handing out flyers and telling people in Grapevine, Lewisville, Arlington and Dallas about Mission Colleyville.”
Mike Gonzales, the Hispanic initiative director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, manned the microphone on the main stage under the big tent. In addition to helping coordinate the events on stage, he served as the main English-to-Spanish translator.
“I think it would be safe to say that 80 percent of the people here are Spanish-speaking,” Gonzales said. “As Southern Baptists, we do missions all over the world. But there are missions to do right in our own backyard. Of the estimated 9 million Hispanics in Texas, there are more than 1 million right here in the [Dallas-Fort Worth] metroplex.”
While families ate a hot dinner, live praise music was provided by a worship team from FBC Colleyville led by Paul Smith, associate pastor for worship, fine arts and music. Smith is a former lead singer for the award-winning Christian group The Imperials. This is his eighth year on the staff of FBC Colleyville, and he has been leading music at Mission Colleyville all four years.
“We could do a Christmas music program, and those are good and wonderful to go to,” Smith said. “But we have decided to feed the poor and embrace this instead…. It has grown increasingly year after year…. It is amazing to see 400-500 church members get involved like this at a very busy time of the year.”
A clear, simple presentation of the Gospel was at the heart of the evening. As participants were finishing dinner, Harber read John 3:16 and told the crowd that God loved them and has a wonderful plan for each of their lives.
He told them that they could not get to heaven by being good, religious, going to church or even being baptized. Drawing an analogy to the free food and toys they received that evening, Harber said the only way to heaven was through faith in Jesus Christ.
“I want to offer you this free gift tonight,” Harber said, as Gonzales translated into Spanish. “The first thing you must do is admit you are a sinner…. The next thing you must do is place your faith in Jesus Christ of the Bible who died for your sins.”
During the invitation, Harber went down to the floor in front of the stage as hundreds of people of all ages came up front to respond to his call for them not to be ashamed of Jesus Christ.
“You are not ashamed?” Harber asked as he took the hands of the respondents.
“No me avergüzio?” Gonzales translated. Those who came forward were led to the church’s youth building which had been set up to accommodate the respondents who made decisions for Jesus Christ.
In front of the stage in the youth building, two baptismal tanks had been set up so that those who made professions of faith could be baptized. Stephanie Davis was a young mother from Euless who came to Mission Colleyville with her 7-year-old daughter Tyesha.
“We came here tonight and Tyesha decided she wanted to be baptized,” the proud mother said.
Tyesha eagerly changed into the baptismal clothes provided by the church and joined dozens of other were who baptized that evening.
“There are some people here tonight whose kids wouldn’t get a gift for Christmas except for this event,” Harber said. “But there is even more spiritual stuff going on. The volunteers are getting a blessing, too. Tonight, the fingerprints of the volunteers will be on the hearts of each person here.”